Escaping religious persecution was hard, but the Dudnyk family is making the best of it. And helping them adjust to their new life in the United States is Refugee Resettlement Services, a department of Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services.
“Hi, I’m Tanya,” said Tetiana Dudnyk, a bright-eyed 25-year-old with her year-old son Adam in her arms. That threshold greeting is about the extent of her English so far, although she does seem to understand more. (RRS provided a volunteer translator to facilitate this article.)
RRS was founded in January 2015. That’s about a year after the Russian army moved into Crimea and Russia annexed it. Nearly three years later, pro-Russian separatists still dominate the eastern region of Ukraine and non-Russian Orthodox religious groups face many hardships, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
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With their limited English skills and two – soon to be three – young children, the Dudynks will need help for months as the father, Danylo, looks for work.
He was an electrician in his hometown of Kherson, a shipbuilding town on the Black Sea and Dnieper River. Danylo also worked as an installer of security systems, a cashier and a warehouse stocker. But he said he is open to any job he can find.
They live in an apartment on Howe Avenue near the Capital City Freeway, overlooking a cracked basketball court with blades of grass shooting up through the pavement. It is simply furnished, and they are lucky they were able to procure two child car seats from the food bank.
Rocio Gonzalez, refugee resettlement manager, said the two things that most refugees with children need are car seats and beds. They also need inexpensive transportation to look for work; the resettlement program tries to stretch its money, but bus passes are $110 monthly and a pack of 10 daily passes is $27.50. Gonzalez explains that each child needs a car seat since they often must depend on relatives or friends who don’t have children, or car seats, to drive them to doctor’s appointments.
Since its inception, RRS has assisted 46 refugee families with resettlement; most have been from the Middle East. Gonzalez said the group expects to help another 25 families in the current fiscal year that will end on June 30.
Since most arrive with only one suitcase per family member, RRS staffers work to find and furnish a place for each family, welcome them at the airport and provide an initial supply of food, household supplies and a small cash stipend. They also assist the adult members in signing up for programs such as CalFresh, English classes, job placement and training, and registering children for school and medical appointments.
“The first 60 to 90 days are critical,” Gonzalez said.
Danylo said he has an uncle in Antelope, and has a childhood friend in the vicinity. They have been checking out Baptist churches in the area, but haven’t settled on one yet. They have been in Sacramento for just over a month.
The translator smiled at the older boy, Gavryil, 7, who started school the week before Thanksgiving.
“He’ll be the translator for the family in no time,” he said. “Three months – I see it happen that way a lot.”
Adam sleeps on couch cushions his parents put on the floor near their bed at night; his brother has a twin bed in the other bedroom.
“It’s OK,” Tetiana and Danylo said. They acknowledged that they have much for which to be thankful.
“Everyone in Sacramento has been so nice to us. They are very nice people,” Tetiana said.
All Book of Dreams donations are tax-deductible, and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs.
Needed: 10 toddler beds, 10 adult bicycles, 10 adult helmets and 10 child car seats.